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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Tour! Following the Tow Path by Day Over Our Ten Days

The best way to play this is in Google Earth.

Your iPad may invite you to open this link in Google Earth. If so, there is a good chance your iPad will play this.

If you are at a desktop or laptop, it should work. Click on this link.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Older iPhones and Google Earth Tours

I have an iPhone 4 and I hadn't even tried  touring with it until this morning. In fact, it worked surprisingly well. Like my iPad, when I clicked on the CanalNow file, I was given the option of opening it in Google Earth, which I did. The result was slightly different, however. Two tours were launched: the first, an intro to Google Earth (which I had not seen before) and the second, running in the background, was the intended tour (which I didn't discover at first). To make matters worse, the pop up text boxes of the intended tour stayed up with the tour running behind them. Finally, I clicked "Done" and discovered that that applied to the text box, not the tour, which I had feared.

I'm not sure of the sequence, but when I discovered the first tour (about Google Earth), I exited out of it. Then I could see the controls for the intended tour and played it, retiring the text boxes as they came up.

The processor in my iPhone 4 is not as fast as the one in the iPad, so the playback was not as smooth, but it was quite credible.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Note on Importing These Bike Routes into Your GPS

I find it quite exciting that one can develop bike routes thousands of miles from where we will ride. A benefit of being able to do so is to enable as many who wish to download them into their own devices and use them as needed to be sure get back to the boat either from the Tow Path or an excursion. About this, I have a couple of observations.

  • It is possible to do
  • It requires a bit of practice
GPS units are changing. The format of routes is changing. To be able to use these routes with confidence (and that includes me) will require some workshopping. But we have more than enough time to do this (if we want) before next October.

Here are several ways GPS devices can be used.

  • You can download a track into them of the desired route. Then you can "follow the track" or "see if you are on track." 
  • You can download crucial waypoints into your device. If you are on roads, the waypoints could mark left and right turns, for example. They can be numbered so that you could follow them in sequence.  
  • You can download a set of waypoints called a "route." In a route you will typically get alerts that a turn is coming. In the best case, you'll get a right arrow, left arrow or straight ahead arrow. This is what is typically known as "turn by turn."
  • You can download the above (a set of waypoints) and a track as well. That way you can see whether you are "on track" as well as being alerted to turns. If you take a little time to set up your GPS, you will also have distance to the next waypoint, distance to the end of the route and a projected time of arrival. This is very nice to have. And quite possible to have. Each of the routes in this blog is capable of being used in each of these ways. But it will take practice. More about this later.

A note on smartphones. Yes, smartphones can now be used as GPS devices. But they are less accurate than true GPS units and depend on being on a network. Typically they would be too expensive to use abroad on roaming, but I plan to check my iPhone out as a GPS device on at least one ride. It's now possible to import gpx and other files into them, including the files available on this blog. But some practice is necessary to work with your phone and application. Stay tuned.

A note on the gpx files on this Blog. They are currently in "track" format except for the zipped files referred to on this earlier post. There are a variety of reasons for this, but check with me before you attempt to import files. You'll want "route files with tracks". Some GPS units have space limitations and cannot accept a large number of trackpoints or waypoints.  In that event you'll want a route with just enough waypoints to smooth the curves. :)

An Immediate Way to "fly" routes

When John and I were talking about routes, we made a useful discovery. In any of the embedded Google Map files, simply click on the "View Larger Map" link at the bottom. That will open a larger view in your browser of the embedded route. Look on the left side of this larger view.

You should see a "kmz" button and a Google Earth icon to the right of  it. Click on the Google Earth icon to fly the route in Google Earth.

Different devices and systems will differ slightly at this point. iPad will give you the option to open the Google Earth file in Google Earth but, alas, I can't make it fly the route. Other systems, like my Windows 7, shows that the file is being downloaded. Once it is downloaded you can click on the downloaded file (usually still visible on the lower part of your screen). That opens Google Earth.

You are not done, however, but be patient. You are almost there! Look under "Temporary Places" on the left column (or pane). Expand the folder. There you will see a "Path" (3 small points in a triangle -- they are supposed to be waypoints). Highlight this path. Then click the "Path" button a little below and to the right. This should start the flyover. (Really)

Try it with the Carcassonne to Trebes Tow Path route listed earlier in this Blog. Remember to click on the "View Larger Map" at the bottom and look for the Google Earth button  to the upper left.

French Resources: Duolingo

See Duolingo's Home Page

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What's on the screen in the St-Ferreol Tour?

This is a screen shot you will see at the beginning of the tour (except for the text box).  Look for the "bicycle" icon. It is used to mark key places on an excursion (as opposed to a segment of the tow path).

This is a screen shot without the placemarks. (You can disable them by unchecking them in the left-hand column.) This less-cluttered view may help clarify the routing.

Google Earth Tour of First Excursion to St-Ferreol

Declan Lyons describes an excellent excursion into the the hills north of Castlenaudry on pages 79-83 in his book "Cycling the Canal du Midi." You can see the route as the left most loop on this Blog's header and also here for the "fast" segment and here for the "slow" segment (previous postings).

But it is also fun to "fly" over this route in a Google Earth Tour. I've found that this kind of tour is better in Google Earth itself rather than in the Google Earth plug-in launched in your browser. So how to do it.

First of all, download the most recent version of the bundle of placemarks, routes, and tours referenced earlier.

 the button.. It is the "CanalNow.kmz" file

What happens next depends on your device and operating system. I found that clicking on this file in my iPad 3 actually gives me the option of opening the file in Google Earth. So far so good. In my iPad, Google Earth independently launches the first tour file in the bundle. Looks like the St-Ferreol Tour is correctly chosen, launched and plays. Pretty smooth here. You can exit the tour anytime (the "X" at the bottom). After exiting, you can see all of the old and any of the new placemarks that may have been added to "CanalNow.kmz". But, alas, in the iPad, you aren't able to see the masthead of placemarks and tours i.e., the contents of the kmz file you have just opened.

If you have a PC, you may be prompted to save the file rather than having it launched. If that is case, save it in a place you can find, then launch Google Earth and "open" this file under the "File" tab. In this format, you can see in "Temporary Places" you will see placemarks of key days and places of our tour, including at least two tours.

Look for the tour to St-Ferreol on this list in "Temporary Places" (on left hand side column). Highlight it. Then activate it by clicking on the "Tour" button below and a little to the right of it. You should then see a description of the tour.

You have plenty of time to read the contents of the text balloon. When you are ready, mouse over the controls the tour controls at the bottom left of the screen. Click "Play". That should start the tour. You will encounter a text box at Guerre. Read that text box at your leisure. It's a long pause, but be patient, the tour will pick up after that.

The tour will proceed north to the reservoir, then west to a "key turn", then south back to Castlenaudry. This completes this silent tour.

Remember, you can pause or exit the tour at any point and stop and look around in this virtual terrain. Enable "Places", "Borders and Labels" layers, lower down on the left hand side. This will enable you to see additional features of the terrain that we will be visiting.

Don't forget to "Save to My Places" before you exit Google Earth. That will keep the bundle of placemarks and tours for the next time you open Google Earth. (Continued...)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Posting Sound Bites with Audioboo

Sent from my iPhone

Posting to This Blog by Email

Who knows, you might find yourself not being able to browse the web, but still able to send email. Then you can still post to this blog by using email. (As I am just now doing.) It's not intuitive, however, so if you are interested in doing so, let me know by posting a comment to this post.

French Resources: Muzzy French

Melinda recommends Muzzy French and I can see why. I'm now checking to see whether a VPN can provide access to the BBC Muzzy site. In the meantime, I hope more will appear on YouTube.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Best Sights and Restaurants Along the Canal

More restaurants than sights on this list, but helpful.

Want to ride from Toulouse?

Here is a Bikely rider who did that. Only 150 miles. More information here.

Canal du MidiCanal du Midi

Is there a good place to grab lunch in Castlenaudary?

Well, there are a few. Check here for the list. Chez David even looks to be within walking distance of where we will pick up the boat.

What are the top ten restaurants in Carcassonne?

Or the top 217? Inquiring minds need to know. Check this list.

What kind of electricity does our boat have?

Looks like 12V all of the time (for charging phones, iPads, etc. via a "cigarette lighter" outlet and 220V when docked and cruising (hence not at night if not docked and connected to a power source). See this great link on our boats.
Here is another possibility from the MapMyRide set for Carcassonne. It is under 5 miles with little elevation gain. More can be found at this link.

Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRide
MapMyRide has a number of documented rides in the Canal du Midi area, plus a neat way to embed ride information as well. This ride caught my attention because there was not too much elevation gain. The list of rides in the Carcassonne area can be found here (along with downloads of gpx files too).

Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRide

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Google Earth Silent Tour Example: Agde to the Sea

One of the very nicest features of Google Earth is its capability of creating narrated tours.It is now possible to view a Google Tour in a browser window. Hence you can achieve some of the effect of a Google Tour without having to use Google Earth. So far so good.

However, because of the intensity of CPU needs, download time and other factors, a Google Tour loading in the browser window tends to tie up things. So I'm using a work-a-round to prevent this.

Click here to go to a secondary blog. Play the tour there. Then there won't be loading problems in this blog. Simple, right?

The tour is a flyover of a canal in Agde, France, the farthest east city we will visit. It takes us from the old city to the Mediterranean Sea and back.

I plan to make available some narrated tours of possibilities along the Canal du Midi soon.

GPS Turn-by-Turn Files

The Google Maps bike-route creator (Beta) is an awesome app. Activate it and Google Maps chooses a plausible bike route, making use of bike trails, known biking routes on roads, etc. But what is more amazing is that it is possible to "drag" a projected route to different streets, or bike paths. In the early days this produced routes that looked more like spaghetti in some parts, but more recently the process is smoother.

What is produced is a smooth track, but with applications like Tyre, it is possible to convert the Google maps route into a "turn-by-turn" file that can be downloaded into your GPS unit. This is done in part by creating a set of via points (similar to waypoints) as needed when there is a turn or a curve. If all goes well, the upcoming via point alerts your GPS to signal a turn. Usually, there is a track along with the via points so that you can see that you are on course. With a route loaded into your GPS, you can get a reading of how far it is to your destination and what your ETA is. Very comforting on a long ride in new territory.

I think that Google did not intend to make available this feature as soon as has come to be the case. They very likely will be introducing their own way of making "turn-by-turn" technology possible. In the meantime, programs like Tyre and others translate the information that is associated with a route shown on your screen into a file that can be downloaded into your GPS.

All of the routes you have seen so far on the Blog have *.gpx files associated with them. These are projected turn-by-turn routes. They undoubtedly have glitches, but for the most part are accurate and can provide something like the "turn-by-turn" experience, including distance and time to destination.

Since we are not in France, however, we can't test them directly. What I intend to do is to test them locally and then edit and emend the ones for France as needed. In the meantime, download these zipped *.gpx files here.
  • From Castlenaudry to St-Ferreo Reservoir
  • From St-Ferreo Reservoir to Bram (or thereabouts to rendezvous with the boat)
  • From Trebes to Lastours and return
  • The Minervre Excursion
Feel free to  test them in your own GPS unit. Garmin software works quite well but programs like EasyGPS work well too and are free. Surprisingly, iPhone apps like MapMyRide and others are said to be capable of importing *,gpx files (usually as email attachments).

The most recent GPS units handle lots of waypoints and via points. Older units, such as my Garmin 60Sx, are likely overwhelmed with a route generated by Google Maps for the whole trip, but likely do well with individual (daily) routes. I would welcome testing by canal boaters (and others) on perfecting the "turn-by-turn" experience well before we arrive in France. But the time is coming when cyclists will be able to navigate from a common *.gpx file they have imported into their GPS units (operating from the satellites) or iPhone or Android or Windows phone (operating from cell-tower triangulation). 

Wrapping Up

We have plenty of time to plan our respective returns to the US. We'll have the boat for ten nights and need to return it on the 11th day, That's  October 14th (John can confirm this!)

There is almost nothing in terms of accommodations in Port-Cassafieres. Nearby Agde is fascinating and has excellent accommodations. A quick look at VRBO turned up this great possibility. My own inclination is to stay at least a couple of days in Agde before returning home.

John and my suggestion is to stay in Agde instead of the boat the last night. The boats can be dropped off in Port-Cassafieres with a few of the crew while the rest explore Agde.

Excursion in Agde

We are so close to the Mediterranean that it would be a shame not to put our feet in the water. There is a canal (not the du Midi) that goes from the old section of Agde to that Sea. Google Maps says that there is a bike path on the side of this canal. Shall we try it?

View OldAgdeToTheMed in a larger map

Beziers to Agde via the Tow Path

As we approach the Mediterranean Sea, we notice a difference in the terrain, even the weather. Agde promises to be an interesting place to visit. It is one of the oldest cities in France, originally a Greek trading village. It is also probably the best place for us to disembark. I'd like to stay a couple of days at least in the Maison Estella, located in the older part of the city. The boat needs to be returned the next day at Port-Cassafieres, but a whole crew is not needed to do that. (The embed window is again too small to see Agde on right right. Click on the " a larger map" below.)

View BeziersToAgdeTow in a larger map

Capestang to Beziers via Tow Path

This segment will take us into Beziers and very likely the high point of the trip, at least in terms of the wonders of the Canal. Here is where we use the Canal overpass (over the Orb River) and also can see the "Staircase" of 9 locks (originally - now fewer) at Fonserranes.

View CapestangToBeziersTow in a larger map

le Somail to Capestang via Tow Path

This is a pretty long stretch and it doesn't fit into the embed window. However, try moving the map withing the window. Lyons recommends visiting the medieval village of Capestang, so it might be worth getting there early. (Note: if you click on the link at the bottom of the embedded map you'll see the route in a larger window. In that view, you can see the estimated times for the ride. This is the same link to the larger map. Did you get 14.2 miles for a time of an hour and twenty-five minutes?)

View LeSomailToCapestangTowOnly in a larger map

Homps to le Somail via Tow Path

Lots to do on this section. Argens-Minevoirs, Roubia, Paraza are all noted. Look for the Repudre Aqueduct.

View HompsToSomailTowOnly in a larger map

Puicheric to Homps via Tow Path

Change to the south bank at Puicheric. Pages 88-90 in Lyons' book.

View PuichericToHompsTowOnly in a larger map

Orientation: Keep in Mind the Map at the Top of Your Screen

We will be moving from West to East along the Canal and associated Tow Path. These Tow Path segments that I have been posting also move to the East. But remember, in this Blog (and almost all others) the most recent postings are shown first. Therefore, to see the earliest segments (and most westerly) segments that we will ride, you must move back in this blog.  The most easterly segments will appear first to someone who simply opens the Blog. But, the index, to your right, on this Blog shows the names and you can access a particular posting by clicking on it in the index.

Trebes to Puicheric via the Tow Path

Lyons notes that the Path switches to the north side at the Marseillette Bridge. The Google maps bike app picked that up! I have some confidence that this is well mapped. (I may want to re-run the GPS waypoints in Tyre to make sure that GPS downloads are consistent with this map.)

View Trebes to Puicheric via Tow Path in a larger map

The Tow Path: From Carcassonne to Trebes

The Tow Path is our foundation ride. We can add loops to castles north of the path, or even ride ahead and back to meet the boat. It depends on energy, the weather, whether we've found a good restaurant or an especially fine examples of a 17th century castle. In the next series, we will explore the Tow Path from Carcassonne to our farthest-most village, Agde, to the east. Note that this portion of the Tow Path can link up to one of our more demanding loops to the north. More about that later. This portion of the Path should take about an hour. It's under ten miles.
View Carcassonne to Trebes via Tow Path in a larger map

Excursion to Minerve

This is to some sights above Homps. Page 99 of Lyons' book. Our third non tow path ride (for those who elect it.) We'll catch up to the boat at Argens-Minervois instead of returning to Homps.

View Minerve Excursion in a larger map

Excursion to Lastours

The ride takes in a castle north of Trebes. Its described on  page 94 of Lyons' book.

View Trebes to Lastours Loop in a larger map

Friday, November 15, 2013

Segment 2: St-Ferreol to Bram

This is the second part of the ride described by Lyons on page 80 of his book. But instead of looping back to Castlenaudary, we can ride a little east and south of Castlenaudary to catch the tow path east to Bram to catch up with the boat between Gay and Bram.

View Non-Tow Path Rides: St Ferreol to Bram in a larger map

The First Non-Tow Path Ride: Castlenaudry to St-Ferreol Reservoir (Segment 1)

Declan Lyons, a cyclist himself, has written a most useful book called "Cycling the Canal du Midi." In it he describes several loop rides to points north of the Tow Path. One starts near our own starting point in Castlenaudry and goes to the reservoir of St-Ferreol. The embedded Google Map below shows the outbound portion to the reservoir.  From the reservoir, the loop winds south to the east of the outward bound  towards Bram (next post).

View Castlenaudary to St-Ferreol Reservoir (Segment 1) in a larger map

Using Google Maps Along with the Blog

Google Maps have one advantage over Google Earth. Google maps can be opened in one's browser rather than Google Earth itself. Also, the Google Maps route-making app has become much better and does permit making and editing bicycle routes. There will always be glitches, but the Google Maps bike app has permitted a credible rendering of the tow path routes paralleling our boats' routes.

The tow-path is scenic and flat and a great foundation for both daily rides and for more demanding rides. Here is the Tow Path route from our start in Castlenaudry to Carcassonne.

View Tow Path Only from CasteN to Carcassonne in a larger map

Accessing Google Earth

Download and install Google Earth for your particular operating system. There are versions for all major systems including those for iPads, iPhones, and other mobile devices. I find that Google Earth works best on a desktop. You can download it here. Follow the installations instructions. It's free and pretty straightforward.

Check out the controls in Google Earth. Note the disappearing controls on the right. You can zoom in using the "+" and zoom out using "-" and also change orientation and "tillt".

On the left pane, you see something like a file structure. In short, you can enable or disable layers of information by clicking in the boxes next to the Placemarks and other items on the "tree."

Google Earth can open up bundles of Placemarks at one time by opening *.kmz files, which are liked zipped files. These could be attachments to email, files on your computer or served from the internet.

I've put up a set of Placemarks here. By clicking on it you will end up launching Google Earth or prompted to save the file. In the latter case, save the file in an easily-remembered place (such as your desktop) and then open it in Google Earth. You can do this under "File" "Open" in while in Google Earth.

You should then be able to see a variety of Placemarks and other items in the left pane in Google Earth. Double clicking on these items will zoom you in to the Placemark.

Among the Placemarks are our anchorage points along the canal by day (Day 1, Day 2, etc.) and also "Paths" (the icon is three small points or waypoints). Double clicking on these should launch a flyover of the route so that you can see the kind of terrain, etc., that you might see.

Once you launch a flyover, you can stop and re-start it by mousing over the controls at the bottom of the screen. It takes a little getting used to, but I think you will find that it is worth it.

By clicking on the "Day" Placemarks, you can zoom from one anchorage point to the next, getting a good sense of how things are oriented with respect to each other in Southern France.

Don't forget to "Save to My Places" the contents of the *.kmz file. That way you will have them available the next time you open Google Earth.

From time to time, click on the "here" in this post to download the most current bundle of  Placemarks and other information. I'll be adding restaurant suggestions, new non tow path rides and more in the coming months.

Click on the image for a "How To" video on getting the most out of Google Earth.

Using Google Earth Along with this Blog

Google Earth is the best place to save routes, Placemarks, fly-overs, audio tours and much more. This Blog is a good place to access the information in Google Earth. It is also a good place to share experiences, make suggestions, review routes, choose restaurants, exchange information about flights and more.